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Case Studies Editor Picks Elegant Concepts

Be Still

I recently came back from Japan and was inspired by the beauty and elegance of the country and its people.

One of the things I’ve noticed is their ability to be still and be calm. If you speak Japanese, or have a chance to become good friends with someone from that culture, you will notice that they have many expressions of ‘being calm’. They will talk about staying calm and being calm. They aspire to be calm. Being calm is highly valued in Japanese society.

And the result of this sense of calm is ‘stillness’.

Stillness is important in elegance.

Here are the reasons why

1) Stillness influences your countenance, manners and your mannerisms.

Stillness evokes an appearance of calmness from within. This sense of stillness helps calm others down, it is pleasant and makes others more comfortable around you.

Hurriedness and fluster may cause others anxiety.

2) Stillness evokes an atmosphere to be efficient, to eliminate the unnecessary

When you go about your day, when you are calm, you probably become more efficient and realistic. You set up the situation where you can do your best, in whatever you do.

3) An elegant person is still.

Every person whom you feel is elegant has this sense of stillness about him/her. It doesn’t matter the situation.

4) It is easier to maintain an elegant appearance with stillness.

To maintain good posture, there must be a sense of stillness otherwise balance cannot be achieved. If you are still, you’re less likely to trip, or spill something on yourself. If you go about life with stillness, you are probably clearer in the head in purpose and direction and are less likely to forget or miss things.

The Elegant Japanese Woman

The elegant Japanese woman is still. She does not fidget, speak or move hurriedly. There is careful thought in her speech and actions.

She stands upright, without looking slouchy. Her head is slightly lowered, compared to the elegant European or American counterparts. I believe that is cultural, as Japanese women as they value the appearance of being humble and tend to not be comfortable in the limelight. Her strength is quiet and she is uncomfortable with drawing attention to herself.

She speaks softly, smiles gently (not the full grin unless something is really funny, and even then she will try very hard to compose herself). She is attentive and very helpful. She makes effort in her appearance with elegant, conservative styles.

Her pace of speech is unhurried. She isn’t afraid to pause in conversation. She is comfortable with silence or lulls in conversation. She listens attentively and responds as sincerely as possible (even if she doesn’t want to).

Her countenance, movements and behaviour are from a sense of stillness.

She moves and behaves in a calm way, like royalty.

Every movement comes from the central balance of the body. The body is still, with all body parts kept “in”. Nothing is fully extended if unnecessary. She is upright and balanced. Her head is erect unless it is necessary to look down. It is as though she walks around with an invisible book on her head.

She doesn’t clap her hands when gesturing, slap someone on the back. She doesn’t rummage. Every action is purposeful and necessary. Hands are placed neatly by the side, head looking up, and she is not fidgety or moving or jerking unnecessarily. She moves seamlessly like a sloth, an elegant sloth. (I’m sorry, I know sloth seldom used in a positive way, but just google the way the sloth moves… it is seamless. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have an ‘elegant’ posture so it doesn’t look regal at all.)

She doesn’t jerk and turn around suddenly, even if she realized she is going the wrong way. There are a lot of pauses, waiting to see if she is in anyone’s way. Her eyes look straight ahead or at you (without gazing) or is focused and not darting around.

Her head is still as well with no sudden turns to left or right. She will not twist the neck awkwardly to look for something.

Whenever she carries or brings something, she thinks about the logistics about it. This might be an insignificant example but it did not come naturally for me. In Japan, we take the Metro a lot. Instead of always digging into the bag for the Metro card to tap out whenever we take a train, it will be in an accessible position, or a little small tote bag with frequently used items such as money purse, mobile phone, packet of tissues and the metro card.

The efficient way of life has enabled her to be still and elegant.

How the Japanese Woman has Inspired me

While I’m not the most fidgety person, I think I’ve grown more hurried and flustered (at least on the inside) due to the fast-pace life. I don’t often feel calm because I feel busy all the time.

When I’m on the train and whenever I have a few spare minutes, instead of staring out the window into the sunset, I’m on my phone (don’t judge me). I’m checking email and replying to my messages from Whatapp, Telegram, Linechat, Wechat, Facebook messenger, and messages from Instagram. Then I check my Instagram and IG stories so on and so forth. Then, perhaps I would read BBC news and check whatever shopping app to see what’s new. If I’m not on my phone, I’m making To-do lists in my diary or thinking about what else I need to get done.

In that way, I feel that is hard to be still in all aspects, mentally, spirtually, emotionally and that affects the physical aspect. I start to fidget, or get flustered. My attention seems to be divided and I’m multi-tasking all the time.

In Japan, when I look around, or whenever I interact with the Japanese, they look so calm, still and unhurried. I doubt they have significantly different lives from the rest of us. And yet, they are able to still have a sense of stillness and peace. And that is why they appear to be so elegant.

That made me reflect and inspired me to write this article.

While I was conscious of their calm-ness, I only realized recently the significance of stillness and its role in being elegant.

This concept was enforced when my guyfriend K joined (or rather, crashed) my trip for a day. I was on my yearly visit to my Japanese bestfriend R. K hasn’t been to Japan before, and so he hadn’t adjusted to their quiet, calm culture. He, being in his raw form and being himself, provided a visible contrast with R. This contrast helped me see clearly the differences in Japanese culture.

K was energetic, lively and spoke very fast. He was also very animated in his expressions. He often used his body to gesture his meaning and to communicate. He was also very casual in his manners. He was warm and friendly and excitable. He was spontaneous and energetic. Often, he was also unfocused. He could be talking about a topic and intersperse other topics in. He was fun to be around, but I wouldn’t say he was the most elegant. Indeed, there were some situations where I had wished he was more sensitive to the Japanese culture and followed (to appear more well-mannered)…especially in a country like Japan where manners were taken very seriously.

Now, if he were in some other countries or culture where it was more relaxed and less stiff, he would fit right in. Unfortunately, he stuck out like a sore thumb.

Now, I don’t think he was trying to be rude, in fact, he was trying to make my rather reserved Japanese friend feel comfortable and he tried so hard to be friendly. He spent the whole day talking to her, initiating and striking up fun conversations with many topics, showing her this that on the train, asking her so many questions (questions which he actually doesn’t really care about the answer, but she was diligently researching to find answers for). He hogged her attention of conversation on our walks on the way to any destination.

Initially, I tried to hint to him some things to be aware of, due to Japanese culture. And eventually I gave up. I knew that R will just bear with him due to her manners.

However, it was very confusing for my elegant Japanese friend. There were many moments where she paused, because she didn’t understand, or know what to say. She didn’t know what to say because she was used to thinking before speaking, considering what she was going to say, how it would affect someone, or how she came across. She wanted to be accurate in her meaning, at the same time not offend or disrespect anyone.

K would ask her direct questions, which she felt placed on the spot to answer. Questions such as, “Do you want to go to this theatrical cafe?”. “When are you going to London? Let me know, I will go with you.” “How about I join you for xxx?”

She looked at me hesitantly. That is because they probably take things literally and generally not in the habit of making this kind of small talk. She wouldn’t say, “Sure, I’ll let you know when I go to London”, to continue the small talk especially if she doesn’t mean it and certainly if she does not want to!

Also, because they (the Japanese) do not want to appear rude, they will always attempt to listen intently, and take your questions seriously. For instance, if you asked R about the most popular restaurant for Sushi, she will spend 15 minutes to research that for you. Thus, it was very tiring for her to constantly be engaged in a high-energy way.

On the train, he was talking loudly. He was animated, and distracting, flailing his arms everywhere. For the Japanese, their normal volume is almost inaudible as they prize quietness and so as not to disturb others. That also means that little noise easily irritate them. So R was actually feeling self-conscious and slightly disturbed. She was also trying to hint to him bits of Japanese culture, such as explaining how on the trains, we switch and carry the our backpacks in front, even if the backpacks are the ones for daily use and are small.

I was also an old friend, so he didn’t need to impress me, so I was pretty much ignored for the day. I think it was because he has never had a chance to socialize with a Japanese person before. He got so excited, he pretty much forgot to include me in conversation and was very dismissive whenever R tried to include me in conversation. She felt offended and told me afterwards.

But get this, I didn’t know she was offended. She only told me later when he left.

I, on the other hand, felt slightly embarrassed.

I was annoyed of course, but I didn’t want to ruin the day and kept my manners pleasant.

However, I’m glad to have that experience because it was through observation that I learned a thing or two more about elegance. The contrast between friendly and ‘loud’ K and reserved, elegant R reinforced the concept of stillness in relation to elegance.

I don’t think K meant to be rude at all (so don’t hate him!). He is a nice person, just… largely uncultured and unaware. I mean, I feel uncultured too and that’s why I make an effort to learn.

Now I’m not saying we have to mimic Japanese culture in order to be elegant. I believe elegance comes in different styles and forms, and we could just learn and be inspired but create our own sense of elegance.

In fact, to some extent, it was tiring. I had to be very sensitive because R doesn’t like to say no. In that way, I appreciate the Western culture of elegance of being direct but nice and polite in saying no. Sometimes I feel R overthinks things. Because they are so indirect, I’m often guessing and hoping I’ve not offended anyone. But the underlying principle is noble because these manners and etiquette had began out of respect and consideration for others.

Habit of Self-Reflection & Thinking Twice

Another interesting point to note about Japanese women and R was their “pause” which happened frequently in conversation. This ‘pause’ occurs during conversation because they are quietly considering what they are about to say. I’ll admit that I found it awkward at first, and they definitely appreciated my ‘natural-ness’ and ‘casualness’ because it put them at ease (as long as I do not make them uncomfortable).

This pause slows my natural (hurried) pace down. It calms me, gives me more time to think, and also compose myself. I became more conscious of my posture and my awareness of everything heightened. I found myself matching her pace and naturally being influenced by her posture and gestures. I learned how to be still.

That habit of self-reflection created a sense of stillness. As a result, she was always polite and considerate. She probably didn’t offend anyone or appear rude. She was pleasant and her manners impressed others. She was quite elegant.

She didn’t rush to respond or react out of emotion. (If I could do this better, I believe I will save myself a lot of trouble!)

Her habit of thinking before she speaks creates a slower pace of life. She often pauses to think, which is something I don’t do very much, I’ll admit. As a result, there is almost nothing rash in her actions.

I think I could use some of that.

Stillness can be learned

I believe the habit of stillness can be learned. On the weekends, I teach young children recreational ballet. They start at ages 3,4 or 5 and come into class running, screaming and bouncing off walls.

One of my favorite things to do to help me teach more efficiently and to instil discipline is this one exercise. I place these young children in a circle where they have to stand still and not move while I count one to twenty. It may not be easy for them in the beginning. They might giggle, cough, scratch, look at the ceiling, the mirror, touch their skirt. When they do, I start my counts from one again.

This exercise calms them down and it is easier for me to start teaching ballet. The parents stand outside amazed. Whenever I’m away, the relief teachers always comment about what a pleasure it is to teach my little ballet girls, and about how disciplined they are in class.

Unknowingly, I was teaching them the concepts of stillness.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I wrote this article because I want to remember my experience and reflections of that trip. I hope this may inspire you to prioritise some ways to be elegant. I’ve also read that meditation helps, and meditation is very useful in all aspects of life. Maybe that is what God meant and He wanted us to learn to be still, as the bible says, ““Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalms 46:10)

Thanks for reading!

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23 Comments

  • Reply
    LindseyA
    May 17, 2018 at 6:49 am

    Thank you for this article. I definitely need to learn the art of stillness. Definitely pausing to think before I speak. I think it will help with my current stress levels.

    • Reply
      Katharine Mary Irwin
      May 17, 2018 at 2:22 pm

      Beautiful article. Thank you. I am beginning practice today. I have often considered Gods words of knowing He is God. You have given me direction to apply that to my countenance.

  • Reply
    Sue
    May 17, 2018 at 7:03 am

    I love this article! (I almost felt bad adding an exclamation point to that sentence since it might appear loud.) I love that you looked for the elegance in the country, the people, and the culture. I believe we are happiest when we look for the good in life and in people.

    This article spoke to me because lately I have been working on trying to go to bed earlier. I am a night owl and it is so easy for me to stay up to all hours of the night. I had been trying for a long time to get up earlier and be more of a morning person. Recently, I noticed that when I got up earlier, there was a sense of calm to the day. I didn’t feel rushed and I had more time to be a little more calm in the morning before I started my day and to-do list. I grew to like that and it is making getting up earlier a little easier. I slipped back yesterday to getting up later and felt rushed today. I am working on being better at that. I think as I learn to recognize calm and to be more calm, it will be easier to get up earlier as it will feel like I am moving “toward” something good (the goal of getting up earlier) rather than feeling like I am going “against” something (like my natural body clock). Thinking about starting my day in that way motivates me to do better.

    You are so inspiring. I love your website because being elegant and learning to be more elegant always makes me feel more beautiful and more like the woman I want to be and more like the woman I want my son to remember.

    • Reply
      elegantwoman.org
      May 17, 2018 at 9:22 am

      Thank you for sharing your story. It has inspired me! 🙂

  • Reply
    Annabelle
    May 17, 2018 at 7:43 am

    Great Article! I am looking forward to practising this as I am not a calm person, I especially like the bible verse at the end.

  • Reply
    Jessica
    May 17, 2018 at 8:10 am

    Thank you Eunice. You articles are always interesting and informative… and practical. I follow you and really missed you during your break. Nice to have you back. I used to be so hurried in everything, all the time. People even comment that I have a worried expression on my face whenever am waiting for the bus. Since I encountered your site, I’ve learnt so much from you and have tried practicing your suggestions. I know it works because my perception of myself has changed over the years and I’ve noticed people take me more seriously. Some have even said that I carried myself elegantly and they want their daughters to be like me (?)… You are my version of a “finishing school”. God bless you for being an inspiration to me.

    • Reply
      elegantwoman.org
      May 17, 2018 at 9:18 am

      Aww thank you. That means so much to me. I’m so happy that you’ve inspired elegance in others!

  • Reply
    Olga
    May 17, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Thank you for inspiration! For me being still is very much to the point. It helps to perform normally, let alone all the rest benefits. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Brinda
    May 17, 2018 at 9:40 am

    Enjoyed reading the post. Stillness and the pause are definitely things I am going to work on! Looking forward to your next post!

  • Reply
    Anuradha Khurana
    May 17, 2018 at 10:12 am

    Awesome Post 🙂 I have always been attracted to Japanese culture and their stillness.

  • Reply
    Kathleen
    May 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

    Thank you for this insightful post. I have often thought the same thing. I ‘work’ on being calm and still. I am not always successful, but now that I have read your wonderful post, I can mentally refer back to it and know that a pause (to breathe and think) is exactly what I should do in order to act accordingly. How often do we all wish we had acted/said something after the situation is over (Me!). This will be particularly valuable in difficult situations. Well done.

    Warmly, Kathleen

  • Reply
    Elena
    May 17, 2018 at 11:12 am

    Beautiful article!! Indeed, speaking calmly and being calm is an art we’ve lost today. I myself feel like I can’t allow myself to think or pause when I speak because maybe unconsciously I am afraid I won’t get a chance to have my opinion heard by the other persons who are in a rush themselves.
    The beautiful quotation from the Bible is very reinforcing of this truth of life, that calmness and stillness gather our thoughts and a mind gathered in itself and pointed towards God has an extraordinary power.
    Regards,
    Elena

  • Reply
    Lynn Raia
    May 17, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Thank you so very much for this post. I have 2 children who are naturally calm and 2 who are very active. The calm ones unknowingly calm me. I am 90 to nothing all day. I am a master multi-tasker. However, it leaves me exhausted and scatterbrained. I drop things. I forget things. I am always rushed. I want to focus more on God and others. I just opened a large coffee shop. I need calmness. I will be pretending to be a Japanese elegant lady. I will practice calmness. THANK YOU
    Lynn

  • Reply
    Ana
    May 17, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    Thank you for this article. I found it extremely useful and it served as a great reminder.

  • Reply
    Ablette
    May 17, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    This is a very beautiful article. I read it out loud to my daughter as we were having coffee with a window slightly ajar listing to the birdbath outside welcoming in the cool morning. To honor your article, we went out together to experience “being calm” and “being still”. We had some very interesting reactions to our “quietness” including some ladies that were checkers in a long merchandise line. There was a woman that was conducting her business rather loudly on her phone behind us, but we pressed on. Once we arrived to pay for our merchandise we said nothing, but smiled as we were hot and tired as midday arrived. We wanted to stay in elegant form. :o)

    My daughter was inspired by your counting to gain the attention of younger students. She informed me as part of her new teaching repertoire she was going to try it out. She like the fact it was audio as well as vision for younger children, and felt it had a military countenance.

    • Reply
      elegantwoman.org
      May 18, 2018 at 2:22 am

      🙂 I hope the counting exercise works for your daughter.
      I’m so glad you had quality time with your daughter along with practice time. That is so inspiring.

  • Reply
    Cathy
    May 17, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    I want to share the most helpful phrase I learned from our Japanesse exchange student. The phrase is “maybe yes, maybe no”. She used it quite frequently, and at first I thought she was indecisive. But soon I started using it in response to my daughters questions for permission, such as “Can I go with my friends to the movies on Saturday?”
    Previously my response might have been a quick “I don’t know” and my daughter, feeling put off would repeat the question and soon we would both be frustrated. However by saying “maybe yes, maybe no”, I was indicating that I neede a little time for reflection and checking the calendar. My daughter would often follow up with, “Is that a maybe leaning towards yes, or a maybe leaning towards no?” We would both chuckle and I could say there are a few things I need to check on first. This helped both of us to communicate in a respectful manner and to add a touch of elegance to our relationship. I hope this will be helpful to others on their own elegant journey.

    • Reply
      elegantwoman.org
      May 18, 2018 at 2:21 am

      Wow, thank you for sharing. This is a very helpful insight.

  • Reply
    Margaret Barksdale
    May 17, 2018 at 11:51 pm

    Always love your articles. This one is no exception. I especially like your concept of teaching discipline by your stillness routine. Again…great article.

  • Reply
    Daniela
    May 18, 2018 at 12:39 am

    Such an interesting article,thank you for sharing with us. I needed to read it.

  • Reply
    Catherine
    May 18, 2018 at 5:32 am

    Thank you. I love the concept of stillness and will be practicing this with immediate effect. I especially needed to read the “pause” aspect. I recently responded instantly with emotion and rage to an email and on reflection, I should have elegantly waited 24 hours and responded far more calmly.

  • Reply
    Kristina
    May 18, 2018 at 9:13 pm

    I so look forward to your latest articles. In a world that is largely loud, brash, harsh and rude, your articles bring much-needed beauty, gentleness and grace. This article on stillness was beautiful and one I will continually refer to. Thank you so much.

  • Reply
    Monica
    May 19, 2018 at 6:42 am

    Lovely experience . Thank you for sharing with us. I too admire the way Japanese ladies carry themselves .
    Years ago we hosted a family from Japan for an International assembly it was a wonderful experience I fell in love with the Japanese culture since then . I have much to learned specially when I regret making hasty decisions.
    Some of which there is nothing I can do change the outcome I wish I had think twice .

    Continue to be a good influence including your young ballet students how cute must they being.
    I agree prayer and meditation are the most great opportunities we have to practice stillness .

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